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Masters Of Sex: How Do We Do This Without The Men?

I just finished reading Masters of Sex, the book on which this TV show was based. My opinions have shifted, somewhat. There is of course the difference in the two media. With the book, I’ve been able to ponder it over several months without feeling the need to retrace my steps. With the show, I started in 2016, gave up when it got triggering and then restarted twice over. This time round, I had to steel myself to power through it to the end, which may have impacted my opinion. Now that I’ve read the book (and the show, to be fair, follows it quite closely), I feel like I have a better perspective on the story and more clarity on the thoughts that came up.

Unlikeability as Lack of Ability

Bill Masters was not a particularly likeable character. Even a somewhat forgiving (attempting to be neutral) viewpoint like Maier’s shows him to have been focussed to the point of ruthless. It made me reflect on several such men I’ve encountered, mostly in romantic context. In the past year, I’ve been reflecting on the idea that these men may not have been evil, chuckling geniuses out to exploit people (and me). Make no mistake, I don’t believe any of them or Bill Masters for that matter, were/are good people. They lack a fundamental empathy for other human beings, a trait that translates into not completely ‘getting’ social cues but also making it very easy for them to exploit, even abuse other people and move on seemingly with no moral compunctions. I’ve been wondering if this merely means that they are limited human beings with very narrow emotional and thus, mental range.

Emotional IS Intelligent

Yes, I clubbed the emotional and the mental together and there’s a reason this post appears on XX Factor. For centuries, we’ve thought of mental faculties as logic, rational, distanced from emotions which have been thought of as inferior, distracting, unnecessary. The ‘mental’ has been designated the domain of masculine and emotions the domain of hysterical females who need a steady man to keep them on track. But being able to access, understand identify and articulate emotions is a skill, one that most girls are taught since childhood. This training may not look and sound good since it mostly takes the form of prioritising other people’s needs over one’s own. But it also teaches us patience and eventually about delaying gratification. It demonstrates over and over, the value of playing the long game – of picking one’s battles, of factoring other people’s feelings when trying to achieve something. Take a look all around and tell me that doesn’t help women. Whether you look to the scheming saas-bahu narratives or the diplomatic ways that female media stars have climbed, these lessons show themselves as valuable.

So what does that have to do with Bill Masters and the men I’ve known? I think they’re people who lack something vital in their mental makeup. I am not intelligent enough to articulate exactly how they’re losing out because of this. Or maybe I haven’t healed from all the callous exploitation inflicted on me personally by them. But I’m convinced that being emotionally limited is a shortcoming and not a strength as I’ve been taught.

The Tragedy of Masters and Men

In the story of Masters and Johnson, Bill Masters does not come off looking good in any way. From all accounts, he was a very gifted and dedicated physician-surgeon already. And it would take supreme courage to undertake the study that became his lifelong passion. This study spawned a whole industry of sex therapy, foreshadowed medical developments like Viagra, was a forerunner of the sexual liberation and women’s empowerment. Importantly, it dispelled many of the medical community’s notions about sex, women’s bodies, older people’s bodies and dysfunctions. Not all the ideas proved correct (especially that problematic view on conversion therapy, which Maier concedes was probably a result of senility) but Bill Masters vision and work transformed how human beings thought of this most fundamental act of relating to one another.

But Bill Masters did not die rich. He was also never acknowledged again, let alone accepted back to the university where he began his project. The few people who tended to him in his last few years – Virginia Johnson herself, his son, his third wife Dody – were/are all seen as deserving of great sympathy and recognition just for tolerating such a terrible man. He certainly did not die loved and the few people who cared enough, probably barely did so.

Considering the need to leave behind a legacy seems more male than female (I suppose it has to do with not really knowing if one’s progeny is one’s own), this seems like a bleak possible future for most emotionally stunted men.


Women Aren’t Winning This Battle Either

This brings me to another thought I’ve been pondering for awhile. I anticipated in my 20s, that the toxic male behaviour I saw around me would have its repercussions on the male gender. I reasoned that the familial structures that supported their Raja Beta brattitude would lose their power as the doting parents got older. But in parallel, the women like me would have collected experiences and lessons in dealing with predatory/exploitative/abusive/cheating men and would reach a point of not needing to carry the burden of them anymore. That is happening. It is happening to me and I see it happening in so many ways around me, even with younger men and women.

The MeToo movement in so many ways was also about women saying that we didn’t HAVE to be exploited any more and if that shocked and destroyed men, why should we have to care?

Where does it leave us all, as a society now? Or as individuals? I know most of the perpetrators named in MeToo seem to have escaped without repercussions. But I know the echoes of this will linger on in every interaction between the genders, every intimate and professional relationship for at least some time to come.

We are a generation of embittered women saying we’ve got a raw deal when it comes to men so we’re not interested. And our counterparts are severely limited men, barely capable of identifying their own emotions right, now dealing with acute fear and no one to tell them how things work. I don’t know that the idea makes me, personally happy.

The last few pages of the book dwell on an ageing Virginia Johnson, after Bill Masters divorced her. A particularly telling section has her reflecting on the fact that she was brought up to be anything a man wanted her to be. How she may or may not have cared for the several men that she encountered (two prior ex husbands, Bill Masters, several other suitors/partners/collaborators).

Virginia Johnson was not a weak or needy woman by any stretch of imagination. Both the show and the book show her to be resourceful, practical, able to set aside her personal ambivalence to focus on what she wanted. One even wonders if she was a victim or an opportunist. But of course, you’d never wonder that about a man primarily because a man would not have had to make such choices but would be welcomed into achievement and exploiting other people readily. She makes for a most interesting character. I’m just not sure that she was a happy person.

It may be the men’s fault but it does mean nobody gets loved or laid.


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A serious look at things

I set up this blog with posts that were supposed to be serious observations on gender equations and stereotypes. I seem to have gotten side-tracked into frivolous male-bashing and women’s magazine-style posts. I’m glad these have been entertaining to those of you who’ve read so far, but I’m afraid I’m digressing. I’m not a performing monkey and my thoughts are not meant to provoke party discussions.

Yesterday I watched ‘Namaste London’. There’s a scene in the movie where the heroine, bulldozed into an arranged marriage ritual, deliberately dresses and behaves ‘down’ so that the guy rejects her. I couldn’t only identify with that, I actually remembered that, having done something not so different myself once. The same girl, a little later, meets a guy who tries to analyse the sugar consumption of the family to determine their compatibility. Did that scene seem completely OTT trying to be funny to anyone? Not to me, I’ve lived through that experience as well. The guy in question, on our first (and only!) meeting wanted to know what my “agenda for this discussion” was. He was mortally offended when informed that I didn’t have one and took great effort to remind me that I was an MBA and hence should have learnt to put my education to use in my life.

It just isn’t funny anymore. So much so-called liberation later, a woman in 2007 still has to manipulate the situation so that the rejection happens from the guy’s side. The mouthpiece still lies very much at the man’s end even if the reins of power (from behind the scenes) can lie with a woman.

How many of you women have asked a man out? And men, how many of you have been asked out by a woman…and actually accepted…and gone on to have something concrete with her? I asked a guy out many years back. We had common friends, kept meeting at parties and it was obvious he was interested. So I suggested a time and place. We did go out, though he seemed rather quiet (and not at all like his erstwhile loquacious self). He didn’t ask me out again and a common friend later told me that I had ‘scared him off’. I’ve never asked a man out after that. When I spot a guy who interests me, I make him ask me out. It isn’t all that difficult, in fact its often so easy its boring even. But what irritates me is that the archaic ritual of a man making the first move still holds true.

Do I come across as a man-hater still? I can’t hate an entire section of the population. What I do hate is being chained down. It would seem like all my education and effort…they’ve all been attempts to groom me to be a ‘good catch’ in the marriage market. So instead of pursuing my longtime dream of studying art, I ended up with a very respectable MBA degree and a job that sounds good enough. But hasn’t anyone realised….you give a human being opportunity, then you’re giving them the desire to take it as well. Give a person a voice and you’ve given him (or her) the need to speak too. Its possible that I may have been willing to set aside whatever I was doing to build my life around a man, had I just continued along in my natural path. But now, having been forcibly pulled into doing something I didn’t even want, realising that I could do pretty well at it and having tasted the heady lure of economic independence and freedom, is it fair to expect me to be able to give it up?

My family and friends tell me that my expectations are too high and that’s the reason I’m not married as yet. Maybe so. But really, can a marriage survive for long without respect? And how am I supposed to respect a person who can only be happy as long as I make him the center of my universe and bury my ambitions, my dreams and my individuality? Can such a person be expected to be strong enough to carry the burden of my happiness? I think not. A person who is weak enough to feel threatened by my successes will never be able to be happy in my company, let alone make me happy. That’s not man-hating, it is simply an objective, if not weary, observation of men and women today.

In defence of my objectivity, I must say that I also have some sharp, if not unpleasant observations to make about women today. Women are dangerous to say the very least. Most of us may still be bound by social restrictions but none of us carry the chains of emotional bondage anymore. A few women like me might be impatient enough, wanting total equality now and here but most women are wise enough to see the situation for what it is and manipulate it accordingly to their advantage. You can call me a cynic but I’m not the one spewing venom about gold-diggers, bitchy bosses and the loss of respect for the marriage instution. The definition of a successful woman today continues to be the same as it has been for generations. She isn’t the richest or the one with the most impressive job. She is the one who keeps her world together. Boyfriend, husband, parents, in-laws, friends, colleagues (junior, peer and superior)….she seems to be adapting to everyone and yet, they’re all twisted about her little finger. This is the power of womenhood unleashed in its most potent form, not tempered with the sweetness of love, not restrained by the holds of values, not bounded by the committments of emotional attachment. Every single ‘successful woman’ I’ve known is inherently cold-blooded and power-hungry. The ones who have held onto even a shrapnel of emotion, bear it as a weakness. After all, the world still calls a woman with a personality of her own…some very unsavoury names.

Still, I want to believe that the world is changing (albeit too slowly for my impatient self!). This post was reassuring. Maybe men and women will respect each other enough some day not to play games with each other. I only hope I’m around to see it.

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